When heading out from the comfort of your home and into the bush, no matter how long you stay, you’ll need something to power any devices or appliances you take with you. This can mean you’ve got a solar setup on top of your campervan or RV to run everything you regularly use, mostly portable fridges or LED lights, or appliances needing more power like microwaves or kettles. Relying solely on solar can impede how many appliances you can use at the same time, and whether they’ll work at all. This is true on cloudy or rainy days when the panels just aren’t getting enough sunlight to produce the electricity you need. In cases like these backup systems, that consist of various kinds of chargers will prove beneficial and may mean the difference from an adventure worth remembering or something easily and best forgotten.
Basics of Solar Setups
There are several components that make a basic solar setup. This includes the most visible part – the panels, the brackets holding them in place and the wiring that connects the panels to your auxiliary battery or inverter. To top up the batteries when days shy away from sunshine, you’ll need some kind of charger to keep things going. To convert the power from the solar panel into usable electricity each panel has its own converter. If you’ve got any power-hungry appliances inverters are the way to go. Microinverters are integrated into most panels and convert the 12V current into 240V. You’ll have no problem running anything as long as the sun is shining. This is where chargers come in. They’re used along with the battery to power smaller appliances that run on DC current.
Types of Chargers for Solar Setups
Depending on the vehicle you choose for adventures, you can get a range of battery chargers to suit your needs. This includes mains batteries, smaller trickle-down chargers and chargers that charge one battery from the power supply in another, also known as a DC-DC charger. Each has its own use and is used at different times during the day. The best way to ensure that you won’t be down on power is to leave home with full charged batteries. This can be done quickly with a mains charger.
You use a mains charger of some sort every day. Whether it’s for your phone, computer or any portable device, you just plug it into the outlet and off you go. For a solar setup, mains chargers are good in replenishing depleted batteries by using the power from the grid. To do this components in the chargers convert the 240V current into the voltage of the batteries. This is generally 12V or 24V and is suitable for most smaller devices you usually take with you on a camping trip.
For safe and quick charging, mains chargers incorporate a limiter to limit the flow of excess current into the battery to prevent it from overcharging. This also means that the current won’t change direction, basically draining the battery and possibly leading to a short circuit.
Mains chargers are good for campsites that have a grid connection. When buying go for chargers with higher output ratings in Amps. This allows for quicker charging times and charging of multiple batteries in a battery bank setup. Nice features to have are auto-charging which detects low voltage in batteries, and built-in battery monitors to show the state of the batteries, and how much power you have left.
Trickle and DC-DC chargers
Mains chargers are good for charging batteries off the grid. For other cases, especially when there isn’t a mains connection, other chargers are used. In a typical solar setup, trickle chargers will slowly top up your batteries. They e generally used during the night, so you can have a full charge the next day. Multiple batteries can be charged at the same time for higher power users. The thing that trickle chargers won’t do is charge almost empty batteries. Here you’ll need a generator running on fuel or a DC-DC charger.
If you e camping with a ute or any smaller vehicle and want to go light on gear, a DC-DC charger might be your best option. They use the car alternator to charge the auxiliary battery at the voltage it can take. This doesn’t in any way negatively affect the car battery. They can also be connected to solar panels in a dual battery setup, meaning charging from multiple sources. For quicker charging times look fro DC-DC chargers with higher Amp outputs.
What to look for in chargers
Chargers are necessary for longer vacations. While most organised campsites have mains connections, some may not, so a mains charger is useless here. Trickle chargers are cheap and easy ways to top up used power. They can be used for more than one battery. DC-DC will be good when you’re further away and don’t have a reliable solar setup. They’re also the choice for shaded areas and when there’s little sunshine.
Look for output ratings, that mean faster charging times, safety features so no overcharging or depletion occurs, and calculate the estimated power usage of all appliances to purchase the charger you need. Consider also how many batteries need charging. Prices vary considerably, so budget in any upgrades you plan to make down the road. Chargers and accessories are sold in stores supplying home and off-grid solar.